Why the Nonfiction Minute Is NOT About Leveled Reading
This week School Library Journal published "Beyond Reading: Choosing Nonfiction for the Developing Reader" by Mary Ann Scheuer and Alyson Beecher. It was circulated among the iNK authors who use this website to introduce children to the many voices and interests of people who write un-leveled reading for them. We thought you might be interested in the reaction to that piece from one of our extremely articulate authors Jan Adkins:
Many thanks to Roxie Munro for calling attention to the School Library Journal article on nonfiction. I found it . . . bloodless.
The moan of the dinosaur sounds from the swamp: Enough already.
I understand academic's desire for metrics, and librarians' desire for "standards" with which to measure their performance in bringing the just-right books to individual readers. But these external measurements of appropriate level can become autocratic, paralleling an increasingly authoritarian state. And in my heart I am certain that well-meaning metricians suppress the one vital factor we celebrate: style. I am also certain that the grid of just-right levels is a divisive fence that separates readers from books that would expand their understanding and challenge their syntactic muscles. These "common" feedlot fences offer books of encouraging simplicity to young readers but discourage them from many of the beguiling, genre-warping, uniquely voiced classic books that compelled many of us to become authors for young readers.
I've been reading Paddle to the Sea to my grandchildren. My 8 and 10 year-old grandsons are keenly waiting to see how Sherlock Holmes solves his "Study in Scarlet." We are ramping up to read Treasure Island. None of these are in their just-right boxes. The books they bring from their school libraries are marvels of appropriate clarity and never challenge their reading levels. I want to challenge them and sharpen their wits on tough intellectual fiber. Most of all, I want them to appreciate the humanness of the author's idiosyncratic voice, the style of storytelling that shapes words and phrases, metaphors and similes, and evades metrical boxes. Filters of vocabulary and syntax are not neutral; they strain out the herbs in a recipe. The stories my boyos love most lately are "The Day the Dam Broke," "The Night the Ghost Got In," and "The Night the Bed Fell." James Thurber's droll phrasing and pace sends them into screeches of piratical schadenfreude. Yes, the metrics are all wrong for their separate reading levels.
Excuse me, dear librarians. I love all of you and understand your desire to excel in encouraging children to read more and more and to gobble up the entire store of words, pictures, and wisdom in your stacks. You do marvelous, heroic work! But style is immeasurable, and pigeonholing books by "appropriate" levels will inevitably separate young and creative minds from their uniquely voiced nourishment. It's even possible that placing books in orderly boxes of access is a kind of slow, flameless burning.